Imagine waking up one morning unable to see the light of day? No longer able to appreciate the beauty of nature: a mesmerizing sunrise or sunset. Imagine not being able to bask in the glow on face of someone you’ve made happy in one way or another; unable to see the smile on your child’s face. Unimaginable, right? Too depressing even to contemplate. Now imagine being blind in Saint Lucia, where clearly consideration for the handicapped is not a national priority. Many of us have fractured a limb and know how difficult it was to manage by yourself. But to be unable to see is altogether something of another dimension. Fractures usually heal, after. Not blindness.
Morgan Dupal, better known as Jim Snow or Coco, was born blind. Like others similarly handicapped he taught himself to play musical instruments. For a time he even had a thriving career as a musician. But in St Lucia good things seldom last. Here, the handicapped, the blind especially, often suffer the taunts of unconscionable fellow humans—and are even robbed of the few dollars donated by generous strangers at street corners. Coco has never been one to beg from passersby. He was quite young when he taught himself to play the guitar. He did well singing at shows. During what he refers to as his glory days, he was invited to perform throughout the region and even in the United States.
“Things have changed,” he told me this week, with obvious regret. “I don’t get invitations anymore. Those who used to offer me gigs have passed on. Now I am left to take what I get, which is not much.”
Still he has managed somehow to support his family by performing twice at Pointe Seraphine on Thursdays and at Hewanorra Airport where busking earns him thirty to eighty dollars. He also receives from the social transformation ministry “a little caca dent,”which is how he refers to the monthly $215 that goes directly into a bank account. After administrative fees, the amount is greatly reduced.
“I have one daughter with my wife; she’s a big girl now,”he says. “I go visit my mom once in a while but I can’t do much for her , other than but play some music. Sometimes I am able to give her ten dollars. But not often. There is no compassion for blind people here. It’s shameful how they treat me. What they would not want for themselves, that’s what they’ll do to others. My electricity bill usually is between $200-$400 a month. Since Hurricane Tomas, my meter hasn’t been working properly and my bill is now in the thousands. I asked Cox & Company for assistance and they sent somebody to check my meter. The guy said I wasn’t burning much current. I’ve gone LUCELEC but all they are interested in is their money.”
His home appliances, a washing machine and an ancient fridge are both inoperative. He also has an electric iron, seven light bulbs that he says are never on at the same time, and a fan donated to him by from Cox & Company. Still, by his most recent electricity bill he owes LUCELEC a balance of $4,455.26.
“I can manage my phone and water bills,”he told me, “but can I do about my electricity bill with what I earn? After many years working and contributing to NIC my wife got only three hundred dollars as her pension. She is not well. She cannot help out much anymore. If she dies, how am I going to bury her?” he asked, eyes awash. Arthritis has rendered his wife barely able to take care of herself.
Most amazingly, despite Coco’s futile efforts to land employment at hotels throughout the island, he remains upbeat. “The hotel managers tell me they are not interested in Country & Western music. But that is all I can sing. It is the music that has kept me alive. If no one wants it now what will I do?” He says he has received assistance from his district representative Stephenson King and from the brewery.” He expressed the hope that having read this story someone might offer him employment or even a regular stipend. When I asked what he would like for Christmas, he smiled before answering. “A small miracle. Maybe a job that would help keep me and my family eating for another year or another month!”
By Ramia Thomas